James Apollo,
Good Grief
(Orchard, 2005)
plus an interview
with the singer

James Apollo is only 25 years old, but has lived as a peripatetic, "hobo and vagabond," and even a punk rocker for as long as he can remember, touring the world in "space and place." His inspiration and music comes from the continuous ride he is on. "I got on it and have been riding it ever since," he told me over the phone from the U.S. He lives in a stream of consciousness of the here and now and is grateful that life ebbs and flows. "Life can't be a constant ride uphill; it is more of a pleasant struggle."

Listen to James's album, Good Grief, and its intimacy grabs you immediately. From the elusive "Prelude, Colonel Travis" to "The Alamo," you can feel the dust in your hair from its road-movie feel. I am not surprised that his music has been compared to a David Lynch movie with its vivid, colourful and grotesque imagery.

In our chat, James was preparing to take the month of September off to explore Peru and the Amazonian jungle. He is more motivated by heritage and culture than musical influences and would rather know how someone makes a guitar out of a tortoise shell than what chords they are playing. "Mercenary Tango" and "Slow Burn" are complete with Spanish flamenco undertones that make you want to get up and dance, while in completely incongruous fashion, "Long Rope" is filled with desperation, pain and anguish.

This is the kind of integration James strives for. Interspersing world sounds into a personal story. "Pushing life down a hill and riding it. ... Going from getting an encore to sleeping rough under a bridge."

Other tracks that deserve a mention are "Dead Men Weigh More (than Broken Hearts)" and the title track, "Good Grief," although I don't think there is a track on this album that doesn't grab you. All of the tracks are done in an almost improvised way, a way to make you feel that you are in the same smoky venue James is playing -- "keeping it as spacious as you can make it sound -- a washboard, some maracas, a tin can...." Living vicariously through the story.

Good Grief is haunting and edgy and a breath of fresh air from the sonorous falsetto that seems to be dominating the charts now from certain male singer-songwriters. Don't expect it to be a comfortable CD, though. Life is not comfortable and neither is James Apollo. This is a gem.

by Risa Duff
8 October 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.